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Witness Interview: Jonah Dale, victim's father

Tuesday, February 20, 2001 - 11:10 a.m.

This witness, identified as the father of the victim, Missy Hammond, came into the Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's Office for a follow-up interview at the detectives' request. The interview was recorded on a portable tape recorder with the witness's knowledge and consent.

TA = Detective Ted Armstrong
SM = Detective Sam Murphy
JD = Jonah Dale

SM: For the record sir, could you please state your name and address?

JD: My name is Jonah Dale. I live at 805 College Hill Road in Oxford.

SM: Mr. Dale, thank you for coming in for this interview. We have a few follow-up questions, which shouldn't take long.

JD: Anything I can tell you... if it will help find who did this to her... Sorry, I still can't believe this has happened. Don't know what will become of poor little Liddie.

SM: It was my understanding that your daughter named you as Liddie's guardian in the event of her death.

TA: Has something changed in the custody status of your granddaughter, sir?

JD: No. Not officially. But the Hammonds... I'm sure you're aware they have money and influence in this town.

SM: Yes, we're aware of their standing in the community.

JD: It wouldn't surprise me if they challenged the custody.

SM: Have they indicated that they intend to do so? Have you received word of such intent?

JD: They're very attached to her. Adore her, really. Almost as much as they adore their son.

SM: You believe they will try to seek custody or help your son-in-law regain custody of his daughter?

JD: Of course I do. I'm just a working stiff, ma'am. I don't make any kind of money. I do okay... but if they want to take it to court, there won't be much I can do.

SM: Have you been served with any papers? Legal documents?

JD: No. Not yet. But every time I hear someone knock on the door or the phone rings, my heart stops for a second. Sorry detectives, just an old man's worryings. Maybe they'll do the right thing and let her stay with her family.

TA: The Hammonds are her family too, right?

JD: Yes, I suppose you're right.

SM: Do you have any reason to believe they aren't Liddie's family?

JD: What do you mean, ma'am?

SM: It's our understanding that your daughter had plans to have a blood test done to determine paternity. Do you know anything about that?

JD: I wouldn't say I know anything about it. Had my suspicions, but no proof of nothing.

TA: Did you suspect that Roger Hammond is not your granddaughter's father?

JD: She don't seem to have any Hammond in her, if you know what I mean? Doesn't really look like any of them. Sure doesn't act like any of them. She's a Dale, through and through.

TA: Yes sir, but did your daughter ever tell you that she was planning on having the paternity test? Did she ever tell you she believed that Roger Hammond wasn't Liddie's father?

JD: Not outright. You have to understand how Missy was. She didn't come out and say things like that. More like she thought out loud. Wondering why Liddie didn't favor her father and such. But she never mentioned any test, no.

SM: Did you ever meet your daughter's boyfriend? JP Wallace?

JD: Not really. Saw him a few times, but we weren't on any kind of friendly basis.

SM: Any particular reason?

JD: Wasn't the type I warmed to, if you know what I mean. You could see he was trouble from a distance. No reason to get up close.

SM: And Missy was aware of your feelings towards him?

JD: She knew he wouldn't be the type I'd've picked for her. But children have to do things their own way. Can't make them see things before they're ready to.

TA: You think your daughter would have realized he wasn't a good choice for a companion eventually?

JD: Yeah, I guess I did. Least, I hoped she would. She had a nice boyfriend through most of high school. Steve? After him, her choices got worse and worse. There was Roger, a spoiled, useless devil and then there was this one, JP. But she was a grown woman, made her own choices. I stayed out of it.

TA: Mr. Wallace seems to think you may have had something to do with your daughter's death.

JD: He what! That lowlife! How could anybody think such a thing? She was my little girl. I never did anything but love her and try to raise her best I could. I'd give my own life if I could bring her back to life, back to her little girl.

SM: You didn't argue or have any falling out with Missy?

JD: No, never! Oh sure, we argued sometimes about but me being over-protective, especially when she was growing up. She always wanted to be so independent, didn't want any help. I had to make her take money from me so she and Liddie could have what they needed. Roger wasn't always so good about paying the support like he was supposed to. We argued about that sort of thing. But I never raised a hand to my child. Never!

SM: Do you know anything about the rope found in the basement of your daughter's home?

JD: Hmm... I helped her lug that armchair home after she bought it in a second hand store. Had to tie down the trunk. It could have been that rope that I used. I really don't know. I work in a hardware store, always have this and that laying around: tape, rope, tools, nails, tacks, what-have-you.

TA: When was that? When you helped her bring home the recliner?

JD: A couple months ago, not too long before Christmas, I guess. Maybe Liddie was using it for a jump rope. I don't think I took it home with me, but I honestly don't remember.

TA: Did Liddie play in the basement often?

JD: Yeah, some. I made her a dollhouse that was too big for her room, so she had that down there. And she liked to jump rope and play her radio and sing along down there. Guess she was pretending it was her own apartment, like her mama did when she was little.

TA: Do you know what happened to the screen for the basement window?

JD: It was old and ripped up. I took it out a couple weeks before Missy... before it happened to her. I was going to cut a new screen and put it in. I forgot about it though. Still have it in my workshop. Maybe if I'd've fixed it...

TA: Mr. Dale, it's been my experience as a police officer that if someone wants to break into a home, a screen won't deter them.

JD: I expect you're right. But I keep thinking about what I could've done. Keep thinking about how I talked to her that day. She was so up and happy... it just doesn't make sense.

TA: Do you remember what time you talked to Missy on the day of her death?

JD: It was around lunch time. I had a couple minutes before I had to get back to work and I just wanted to say hi.

SM: Where were you when you called her?

JD: At the store.

SM: And where was she?

JD: At the beauty shop.

TA: Any particular reason you didn't wait and just call her that evening? At home? Instead of calling her while y'all we both at work?

JD: Well, Friday night was her date night and it's not a good idea for your daddy to call you when you're on a date. At least, she didn't think so. I wanted to make sure we were all having breakfast and to see how long she was going to be working the next day.

SM: Why?

JD: Just wanted to know how much time me and Liddie would have to goof off during the afternoon. We were all going to have dinner later, and I was thinking we could go somewhere nice. Wanted to make reservations.

TA: Were you celebrating anything?

JD: Yeah, a little bit. I made my final mortgage payment that week and I guess I wanted to celebrate a little. She didn't know it, but I was going to help her buy a new car with the little extra I was going to have.

SM: Couldn't the Hammonds have helped her out with a car? Since that's their business?

JD: The Hammonds had no love for my daughter. They think she wronged their son and they had no use for her. Except to be able to see Liddie.

TA: You don't like the Hammonds much, do you?

JD: No, sir, I don't. They treated my daughter like a second class citizen and their son like a prince. Always buying things for Liddie to try and make her mother look bad. Taking her out to that brand new skating rink and to expensive restaurants. Buying her fancy clothes. Just trying to buy the child's love.

SM: Did Missy allow Liddie to keep the expensive gifts?

JD: Not all of them. And that caused all hell break loose too. Liddie would pout and pout and tell Missy she'd go live with her daddy and leave her all alone, if Missy didn't let her keep them.

SM: But your daughter had sole custody, correct? Roger Hammond had no visitation rights whatever?

JD: Not any legal rights, if that's what you mean. But something tells me that he was finding a way anyhow.

TA: You believe that Roger Hammond was seeing Liddie secretly?

JD: Yes. Funny things she'd say sometimes. Like how her daddy said this or that. Or how she and her daddy went someplace. Then when I'd ask her about it, she'd say she meant before, when she used to see him.

SM: So it's your belief that the Hammonds were facilitating your son-in-law in seeing Liddie?

JD: I sure wouldn't put it past them. They think because they got the money, they can break the rules. I knew ol' Tommy Hammond when he was in school and he was all right. The minute he married Gloria, he became a snob just like his wife and her family. After years of that, it rubs off.

TA: Did you ever see Liddie with her father after his visitation was revoked?

JD: No, I never did. Like I said, I just had a suspicion, but nothing I could prove.

SM: Did you ever tell Missy about your suspicions?

JD: No, I never did. Didn't want to stir up trouble, if you know what I mean. She had enough worries without my adding something to them that I wasn't even sure about. Maybe I should've told her, but I didn't.

SM: Okay, Mr. Dale, just a couple more questions. According to our records, on the morning your discovered your daughter's body, you talked to your cousin, Johnny McPhail for seven minutes and the 911 call only lasted four minutes.

JD: Uh-huh.

SM: Can you explain why you were on the phone so long with your cousin?

JD: I was pretty rattled, don't really remember how long I talked to him. My girl was dead and my Liddie was white as a ghost. I was just rambling on and on and he was trying to settle me down before y'all got to the house. Reckon he was afraid I was going be a blubbering fool when y'all arrived and I wouldn't be able to tell you nothing. And he was worried that Liddie would see me all upset and kept saying I had to think of her and pull myself together.

SM: Okay. And that morning when you arrived, you're certain the television was on?

JD: Yes, ma'am.

TA: But you don't remember what lights were on?

JD: Well, I know a couple were on, it was kinda overcast that day, had to have some lights on. But no, I don't remember which ones.

TA: Anything else you can tell us?

JD: Nothing to tell but something to ask. Liddie's been wanting her mama's necklace - it says Number 1 Mom on it. Liddie gave it to her mama on Missy's last birthday. I helped her pick it out for her. Do you folks have it? We can't find it in the house anywhere.

SM: I can check the inventory list for you and get back to you on that. Off the top of my head, I don't know.

JD: I'd appreciate it, ma'am.

SM: Thanks for your time.

End interview 12:03 p.m.

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